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Families, lift up your eyes

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"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Ps 121:1-2).

To reflect on the past several months is to acknowledge that, unlike the Psalmist, we have placed — and continue to place — our hope in politics. We have lifted our eyes to Washington. The well-being of our families, our church, our communities and our nation: for all of this, we have not looked to the one who made heaven and earth.

It’s all so clear, really. We are coming to expect things of politics that no one — except for Lenin, Stalin, Mao and others of their ilk — ever intended. And when those expectations aren’t met, we become discouraged. We lose sight of gratitude. Our children see irritable dads and moms let down by politics. Perhaps understandably, they turn to the nearest screen. 

"We have imputed astronomically high expectations for what the government should do, that it will save our nation" observes sociologist James Davison Hunter. " … Politics can’t do that."

But we still want politics to do the quick-fixing — from the pandemic to the economy to education to you name it. When all these externals are "fixed," we reason, then we can go about taking care of our families and loved ones in peace. This, despite the fact that we know better. We know that marriage and family are prior to politics in every way. We know that our duty is to form our families no matter the circumstances surrounding us.

The Lord became incarnate in the Christ Child not so that our families would place our hopes in the vicissitudes of Roman politics, but that we would become holy families raising future saints whose lives, like leaven, will lift their fellow citizens on account of their excellent virtue, service and sacrifice. 

We are all reeling from many things. On days when my steps are not quickened by God’s consolations or a bit of good news, it’s easy to feel the heaviness of the recent loss of an aunt from COVID-19, an elderly family member’s loneliness, a friend’s job search, a recent widow’s plight and the unknowns my oldest will face as she soon leaves home for college. 

Onto the dry kindling of all this uncertainty, another news story about today’s political climate falls like a lit match. The results are predictable: the shake of a head, a furrowed brow, a tightened chest, an unkind word and suddenly fear spreads like a contagion through our households. The entire family becomes stuck on angry, and the surrounding culture is all too ready to magnify and feed off it.  

Despite the heaviness of these days, do our friends, spouses and children see the beauty in our lives? Can they glimpse our gratitude, hope, faith, love, perseverance, joy, patience, prayerfulness and courage? Are we seeing — even looking for — evidence of God’s work in our lives?

With so much in this new year already weighing on us, perhaps it’s time to step back and take a breath. Look at your expectations of politics and Washington and ask yourself if those expectations align with the reality of your faith, which has never sought salvation or even a miracle in a bill, court ruling or executive order.

Then look at your expectations of your home, your spouse, your family, and ask yourself if those expectations align with the reality of your faith, which has constantly entrusted you with the "first responsibility" of your children’s education and the "grave responsibility" to give them good example (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2223).

Several weeks into the new year — after my resolutions were all but eclipsed by the seeming enormity of events around me — I made my way to confession one morning. Entering the sanctuary, I was startled to see a coffin, apparently for a funeral later that morning.    

As I stood in line, examining my conscience while staring at a stranger’s casket, my expectations of politics over the past few months somehow came into focus. The enormity of what I have been entrusted with in my marriage and family came into view. As I surveyed the wondrous cross above the altar and the nearing miracle of Christ’s mercy for me, his unworthy servant, I lifted my eyes unto the hills.   

Johnson is co-founder, with his wife, Ever, of Trinity House Community (trinityhousecommunity.org).  

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021